Birmingham has been selling itself to the world at the Sister Cities festival in Chicago. Post magazines editor Jon Perks looks back at the week-long festival.
Chicago has countless nicknames. The Windy City is probably the best known; it does not come, as most people think, from the breezes that blow in off Lake Michigan, but the fact that in the late 19th century Chicago’s bellicose politicians would go to New York and brag about how great their city was. They were full of hot air – windy.
Happily that’s no longer the case; not only are Chicago’s civil servants more likely to ‘do’ rather than simply ‘say’, they could, should they be inclined, now justly shout about what a great city they have.
Just ask local boy done good Barack Obama. Another Chicago soubriquet is The City That Works – and boy have they worked this week.
The Sister City partnership between the US city and Birmingham, the week-long international festival and Birmingham Day itself has been more than just a jolly junket for all concerned.
Things have got done, agreements signed, contacts established and pledges made.
From the five-point Best Practice action plan agreed and signed to climate change initiatives, to establishing vital contacts ahead of Birmingham hosting next year’s 100th Rotary International Convention – not to mention the forging of potentially fruitful links in the culinary world – the visit of Team Birmingham to its sister has, the consensus appears, been a great success.
“Events such as this are proof of the importance that we attach to sister cities partnerships,” said Councillor Neville Summerfield, Birmingham City Council member for regeneration, who fronted the delegation to Chicago.
“I believe we have much to learn from each other," he said. “The message I will be going back to the leader with is that we want to maintain the tremendous momentum which we reignited in 2005.”
Speaking after the Sister City farewell dinner at Chicago’s famous Signature Room restaurant in the John Hancock Tower, Clive Dutton, director of planning and regeneration for Birmingham City Council said: “Standing here on the 95th floor looking out at the US’s second city is quite humbling; my overall impression is that Birmingham did itself proud in such an auspicious setting, and demonstrated its ability to perform with the best in the world.
“The city of Chicago have been not only respectful of its relationship with Birmingham, but looked for guidance and inspiration from us on what they should do next, which is quite extraordinary.”
* Marilyn Clark’s ears pricked up when she heard the dulcet tones of a Birmingham accent in Chicago this week.
The 21-year-old who works as guest services representative at the Springhill Suites Marriott hotel, is currently on her placement year from a sandwich course in Hospitality and Tourism Management at University College Birmingham.
The hotel where she works was the week’s base for Team Birmingham - the 20-plus strong delegation attending the third annual Sister Cities International Festival.
“I saw all these people from Birmingham and said to myself ‘there’s something going on...’ it was odd to hear the Birmingham accent here.”
French-born Marilyn lived in England for several years until moving to Belgium. She arrived in Chicago in February and will return to Birmingham in seven months’ time to complete her studies.
“I wanted to study in England so I searched for colleges all over England - Brighton, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham - and my favourite one was the College of Food in Birmingham,” she says. “It was because of the reputation I had heard from friends.”
After just three months in Chicago, Marilyn is already a big fan: “It’s a huge place so there’s loads to do; a big variety of different kinds of music, and the food in Chicago is unbelievable, there are so many different restaurants,” she says
“You have a Brazilian steakhouse, really good seafood, sushi, really good French restaurants... and now the summer’s coming there are the festivals - you have so many things to do you can’t get bored.”